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New Socialist Webzine

Election reflection: Three questions for activists

The editors of New Socialist asked three activists Hassan Husseini, Niloofar Golkar and Russell Diabo to explain what the election of a Liberal majority means for their areas of social justice work. We're afraid, but not surprised, to hear that they are deeply sceptical that real progress in labour, environmental and indigenous causes will follow. We may have a prime minister who says some of the things people want to hear, but the Liberal past and current record speaks for itself. 

Activism in the age of neo-Trudeaumania!

By Hassan Husseini

The outcome of the October 19 election was not the least surprising, for two key reasons. First, so much emphasis was placed on the goal of defeating Harper; and second, with an NDP that increasingly looked like a liberal party, many voters opted for the real liberals who, in their view, were better placed to defeat Harper.

While dumping the Harper Tories is a welcome step forward, it leaves the neo-liberal austerity agenda unscathed not that the election of Thomas Mulcair's NDP would have done that much damage to it either. Nevertheless, as a party of big business and one that initiated much of the austerity agenda of the 1990s, we should have no illusions about the extent of the change Canadians made on October 19 by electing a majority Liberal government.

A decade of Harper's extreme right-wing and divisive rule has done so much damage to our political compass that we all breathed a collective sigh of relief on October 19, and have since been cheering the Trudeau Liberals on as they begin to dismantle the most egregious of Harper's policies. Even the leadership of the Canadian Labour Congress joined the chorus when Trudeau spoke at the Canadian Council meeting just last week and pledged to repeal anti-union Bills C-377 (compelling unions to publicly disclose certain financial information) and C-525 (eliminating the automatic card-check system for joining a union).

While I have no doubt that these two bills will be repealed, Trudeau is only setting the clock 10 years back. If we hope to make any advances, we should be prepared to organize and mobilize the working class for the coming battles ahead; and that won`t be an easy task. I am encouraged by climate justice activists who organized a Climate Welcome sit-in at 24 Sussex on November 6.

The challenge of a Liberal government is not only that they campaign on the left and govern on the right. It is the fact that they do it with a smile which takes the edge off and creates the illusion that they are way better than their conservative cousins. As a result, most unions and centrist social movements mistakenly opt for a political strategy focused on lobbying instead of organizing, mobilizing and building a broad-based coalition to defeat capitalist austerity.

The terrain on which we must engage the Liberals and on which they will reveal themselves as austerity hacks includes:

  • international trade and investment deals: Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), and Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)
  • the so-called anti-terror legislation: Bill C-51, Security of Canada Information Sharing Act
  • as well as foreign military aggression, climate justice, social programs and privatization.

After all we only replaced one neo-liberal austerity party with another, albeit one that is more photogenic!

While business union leaders pursue a strategy that is proven to be a historical failure, left and socialist labour activists should double their efforts to rebuild our unions on a democratic, independent, inclusive and militant basis. This must be part of a broader political project to re-centre organized labour at the heart of a broad social movement capable of defeating not only Harper but austerity itself.

Hassan Husseini is a socialist labour activist. Hassan is active in the group Take Back Labour.

* * *

Looking past the rhetoric: No reason to stop organizing

By Niloofar Golkar

At this point the new government's ministry of Environment and Climate Change has not made any positive move beyond adding climate change to the name. It has no plan to stop pipelines and tar sands, and it is using the Conservative's so-called climate action strategy, which proposes "cutting emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030" as a floor in its presentation to the Paris United Nations climate conference taking place this week.

Meanwhile, Justin Trudeau was disappointed with the US rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline, and Catherine McKenna, the new Environment and Climate Change minister, approved the plan to dump billions of litres of raw sewage into the St. Lawrence River. The Liberals' lack of plan for action despite their rhetoric is due to the fact that Canadian social, political and economic structures are so intertwined with mining, fracking and tar sands development that any shift toward reducing emissions needs a huge grassroots resistance to make it possible.

The new Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, and the lack of public consultation about the environmental effects of the deal, makes the environmental scene even more complicated. The governments that gained their power from the structures that have been built on exploiting the environment and committing to climate change are not about to cut those roots.

Activists continue organizing against pipelines, rail tankers, mining injustices and fracking by building stronger relationships with indigenous peoples in solidarity with their resistance against ongoing colonialism and the primitive accumulation of land and resources. Canadian industries are polluting water, air and land, and they are forcing many communities to leave or stay under life-threatening conditions.

Different communities of people of colour who face environmental racism started organizing to raise awareness about the danger of the pipelines and rail tracks going through their communities. In addition, coalitions against the war and against Canadian imperialism (taking the form of mining overseas) should play a crucial role in the upcoming struggles.

In order to connect the struggles together to empower the resistance, unions and different sectors of the labour movement need to step in and support the shift to green jobs and renewable energy. Unions have lobbying and bargaining powers with which they could force different workplaces, industries and corporations to change their policies, replace their energy system, and empower the renewable energy sector.

So far there were small and big victories gained by communities and groups organizing against the corporate grid, from stopping the Keystone XL pipeline to delaying Line 9 for almost a year. This reminds us that the struggle continues and organizing has tangible results.

Niloofar Golkar is a member of Rising Tide Toronto and Toronto New Socialists.

* * *

Sunny ways? Does the Trudeau government mean "real change" for First Nations?

By Russell Diabo

On election night I watched the victory speech by Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau as the first words out of his mouth were "sunny ways my friends," apparently a phrase from Sir Wilfrid Laurier, a former Liberal prime minister and still current icon. Trudeau also repeated his campaign slogan: "In Canada, better is always possible!"

So, will it be "sunny ways" and "better" for First Nations in Canada under a Trudeau government?

The Trudeau Liberal Platform includes some major promises on First Nations policy:

  • a renewed nation-to-nation process
  • a federal reconciliation framework 
  • enactment of all 94 Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations
  • recognition of and respect for Aboriginal title
  • lifting the two percent cap on First Nations programs that the Liberals imposed in 1995
  • developing a new fiscal framework
  • undertaking a full review of federal regulations, policies and operational practices in consultation with First Nations.

These promises are on top of the promised billions in new spending on First Nations infrastructure, education and jobs training.

In unprecedented numbers First Nation persons participated in the federal election, and expectations are high that Trudeau will keep his promises, and that "real change" will come after the Harper decade completely devastated federal-First Nations relations.

However, the Liberal record does not inspire confidence that the Trudeau government will keep its promises. From the 1969 White Paper on Indian Policy to the miserly interpretation of section 35's constitutional "recognition and affirmation" of Aboriginal and Treaty rights via the current federal land claims and self-government termination policies of today, the Liberals have consistently disappointed. (Stephen Harper implemented these termination policies during the last decade, accelerating the federal First Nations termination plan using Liberal policies.)

So what will Trudeau do about these existing federal First Nations termination policies? Trudeau's appointment of Jody Wilson-Raybould as Justice Minister along with Carolyn Bennett's appointment as Minister of "Indigenous" and Northern Affairs is seen by many First Nation peoples and leaders as a positive first step towards the promised "real change."

But, it should be noted that individual ministers implement cabinet decisions, which come from cabinet committees. And despite the Liberal hype about the importance of First Nations and their wooing First Nations people as voters, Carolyn Bennett is not on the key cabinet committees: Agenda and Results (formerly Priorities and Planning), Treasury Board, and Parliamentary Affairs. Jody Wilson-Raybould, however, is on the powerful Agenda and Results committee.

While Carolyn Bennett is a good choice from the stable of MPs Trudeau had available after the election, it remains to be seen if she is assertive enough to take on the bureaucracy left over from the Harper decade.

As for Jody Wilson-Raybould, with hundreds of federal court cases against First Nations across Canada, I think she is basically in a conflict of interest. Time will tell if the scales are tipped towards the Crown's interests or those of the First Nations. Her career includes acting as Crown prosecutor in the poorest part of Vancouver, as well as supporting negotiations under Canada's land claims extinguishment policies.

First Nation peoples and their allies will need to monitor the Trudeau government closely. The Liberals (like the Conservatives) are good at doublespeak but if there is no "real change" on the ground, it will be measured and publicized. We will learn more about where the Trudeau government is going in the Throne Speech and the Liberal budget due out this spring. Stay tuned!

Russell Diabo is a citizen of the Mohawk Nation at Kahnawake and the publisher and editor of First Nations Strategic Bulletin. Diabo has most recently written for New Socialist Webzine on The Tsilhqot'in Decision and Canada's First Nations Termination Policies, and Canada Responds to Tsilhqot’in Decision: Extinguishment or Nothing! (co-authored with Shiri Pasternak).

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